How much does President Obama expect us to pay for health care?

The President's Proposal

The White House
February 22, 2010

Policies to Improve Affordability and Accountability

Example for a family of four with income of $66,000:

Maximum percent of income paid for premiums: 9.5%

Percent of costs paid by health insurance plan: 70%

Penalty for remaining uninsured: (in 2016) the higher of $695 (with indexed increases) or 2.5% of income

Hardship exemption - threshold income below which the penalty is waived: The income tax filing threshold ($9,350 for a single or $18,700 for a married couple in 2009)


By Don McCanne, MD

The greatest significance of President Obama's health care reform proposal released today is that he has now formally placed his stamp of approval on the fundamental policies already contained in the House and Senate reform bills. While remaining silent on some of the third rail issues (public option, Medicare buy-in, pregnancy termination, etc.), he and his staff merely tweaked the bills and added insurance premium rate review, whatever that's worth, and some rhetoric on waste, fraud, and abuse.

His proposal still falls far short on two of the most important goals of reform: 1) insuring everyone, and 2) ensuring that health care is affordable for each of us. Merely tweaking the Senate version, which is what they did, could not have attained these goals since the most effective policies were already traded away before serious negotiations began.

That said, let's look at what the President expects a family of four with an income of $66,000 to pay for health care. The premium contribution would be 9.5% of income, or $6270 for the basic plan with an actuarial value of 70%. If they wanted or needed a better plan, they would have to pay the full difference in the premium. At an actuarial value of 70%, they would also have to pay an average of 30% of all health care costs. This can vary considerably because of plan design in the form of deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, non-covered benefits, stop loss, out-of-network care exempt from stop loss, and other factors. If they either elected not to or were unable to pay the premium, they would have to pay a penalty of $1650, but then, of course, they would have no protection at all against potential health care costs.

Clearly, President Obama has not done any better than Congress in protecting families from financial hardship should they have the misfortune of developing significant medical problems. Unaffordable underinsurance is not the change that we needed.